Redeeming the Time: Holy Living and the Church’s Holy Days


The following sermon was prepared to introduce Advent and the church calendar to a congregation that was mostly unaccustomed to its observance. If you are a pastor who would like to introduce Advent to your congregation, start by discussing it with your church board; then, with their support, consider preaching a sermon that gently introduces the season and the biblical principles which it aims to honor.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15–16; cf. Colossians 4:5)

Redeeming the time. (Ephesians 5:16 KJV)

Teach Us To Number Our Days

There’s a famous painting of Martin Luther translating the Bible at Wartburg Castle. On the desk in front of him is an hourglass, a half-burnt candle, and a skull. If you look at paintings of Christians of the past, you’ll notice that this is a common motif. It’s part of a long Christian tradition known as memento mori, which means “remember death.” Christians placed reminders of death in their homes or studies because they wanted to remember that life is short and eternity is at stake.

The Psalmist prayed, “all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:9–10). Even if we live to be 80 or 90 years old, life is a drop in the bucket of eternity. “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1), and those who live longer often suffer more. Ecclesiastes issues a solemn warning: “remember … your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Job 14:1).

We hear stories of lives cut short, but rarely stop to think that none of us are promised tomorrow. James 4 rebukes those “who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.’” Our plans must always be committed to the Lord, for we “do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13–15).

Most importantly, what we do in this short life has consequences for all eternity. If we waste our time on this earth, we will regret it forever. The fool wastes away his days with vain and selfish pursuits; the wise man prays with the Psalmist, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). This morning, I want us to consider three ways that we can obey the command to redeem the time.

A Clean Break from the Old Life

First, we can redeem the time by making a clean break from our old life, in which we wasted our days with self-centered living. In Ephesians 5, Paul reminds the church, “at one time you were darkness” (Eph. 5:8). There was a time when we walked in sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness (Eph. 5:3), lust, anger, and greed. Our days were spent serving ourselves and pursuing own interests. “But now,” Paul says, “you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:8–10). Look especially at verse 11: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Christians are to take no part in sinful works. We are to make a clean break from our old lives, when we wasted our days with sinful and selfish living.

Sometimes we need to make a break from something which is not sinful in itself, but is sinful for us. Susanna Wesley famously wrote, “Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself” (Letter, June 8, 1725). As a new Christian, one of the most dramatic changes that I had to make in my life was to stop wasting so much time playing video games. For a while, I unplugged my Xbox completely so that I could focus on Bible reading. I have an addictive personality, and I can easily spend hours at a time on something that I enjoy. Now, are video games sinful? No; I just ordered a video game for my son for Christmas. But if you’re wasting endless hours on video games or TV or anything else while neglecting to pray, read your Bible, or serve the church and your neighbors, then that thing is sinful to you.

If you’re wasting endless hours on video games or TV or anything else while neglecting to pray, read your Bible, or serve the church and your neighbors, then that thing is sinful to you.

This morning, ask yourself, Am I still wasting my time with things that will bring me no reward in heaven?

Make Every Day Count

Second, we can redeem the time by making every day count for Jesus. In the ESV, Ephesians 5:16 is translated, “making the best use of the time.” It isn’t just about putting off the old life; it’s about living a new, transformed life in Christ. There’s both a negative and a positive. God frees us from vices so that we can develop virtues. “Walk, not as unwise but as wise.” “Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” It’s wonderful to know what God has saved us from. But God has also saved us to a life of good works and fruitful labor for the kingdom.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Today is the day to get busy doing the master’s will. Don’t wait a day longer to do the things that you know you should be doing. “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17). Don’t waste your life! C. T. Studd once wrote,

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

John Wesley was influenced by many books, but few more than Jeremy Taylor’s Rule and Exercises for Holy Living and Dying. The first section of Taylor’s treatment of holy living is on “care of our time.” Taylor writes, “God has given to man a short time upon earth, and yet upon this short time eternity depends; so that for every hour of our life (after we know good from evil), we must give an account to the great Judge of men and angels.” Taylor warns not just against sinful practices, but against “whatsoever spends much time to no real, religious, or charitable purpose.”

“God has given to man a short time upon earth, and yet upon this short time eternity depends.” (Jeremy Taylor)

John Wesley took this to heart, and God used him mightily. Wesley rode 250,000 miles on horseback, far enough to circle the earth 10 times. Wherever he went, he proclaimed the gospel, preaching over 40,000 sermons. In his lifetime, Methodism grew from just four members to 132,000 members. Not all of us are called to be a pastor or a missionary, but all of us are called to make every day count for Jesus. Ask yourself, Am I making the best use of the time that God has given to me? 

Claiming the Year for Christ

Finally, we can redeem the time by setting aside whole days and seasons to worship as a church. Ephesians 5 goes on to say that we redeem the time by being “filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” We should redeem the time individually, but we should also redeem it corporately, through our life and worship as a church family.

As you know, most of the world follows the Gregorian Calendar, which begins on January 1st. In the United States, the calendar is filled with secular holidays like Independence Day, Veteran’s Day, and Memorial Day. But for the Christian, the calendar is also filled with holy days and seasons.

First and foremost, every Sunday is a holy day. One whole day in seven is redeemed for the Lord, set aside for the church to gather and celebrate our risen Lord. Though every day belongs to the Lord, we call Sunday “the Lord’s Day.” Most unbelievers live for Saturday, but when we begin to live for Jesus, Sunday becomes the most important day of our week. Weekly Sunday worship establishes new, gospel rhythms in our lives. It’s a way to redeem the time.

One whole day in seven is redeemed for the Lord, set aside for the church to gather and celebrate our risen Lord.

Second, Christians set apart high holy days throughout the year, such as Christmas and Easter. On Christmas Day, we celebrate that Christ has come! God has become human for us and for our salvation. Then, on Easter Day, we celebrate that Christ, who died on the cross for our sins, is alive from the dead, offering salvation to all who believe.

But here’s the challenge: Because Christianity has had such a major impact in the Western world, even our non-Christian neighbors observe Christmas and Easter, and these days have been largely commercialized. The busyness of buying presents, planning meals, and navigating family drama can crowd out the holiness and sanctity of these days. Instead of redeeming the time, we rush through it. Christmas and Easter sneak up on us, then pass us by in a flash.

That’s why, third and finally, the church throughout history has also observed seasons of preparation and celebration of the church’s high holy days. On your way in, there was a handout with the Calendar of the Church Year. As you can see in the diagram, the church calendar redeems the time by claiming the whole year for Christ.

The church calendar redeems the time by claiming the whole year for Christ.

This morning is the first Sunday of the season of Advent, a season of preparation for Christmas. The word “Advent” means “Coming,” and is a time to join ancient Israel in looking for the coming of our Messiah at Christmas. As those who live on the other side of the incarnation, we simultaneously look for the Second Coming of Christ, when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. We read prophecies of Christ’s first coming in the Old Testament, and of his second coming in the New Testament. We sing songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and “The King is Coming.” And we light candles, week by week, one at a time, building a sense of anticipation for the lighting of the Christ candle on Christmas Day.

While a season of Advent is not commanded in Scripture, neither is Christmas Day. But both are wonderful Christian family traditions that are worth preserving in the church. Without a marked season of Advent, Christmas Day often sneaks up on us and passes us by in a flash. But when we take Advent seriously, our celebration of the incarnation becomes all that much deeper and more meaningful. It’s like anything else: you get out of it what you put into it.

On our church website, I shared a link to resources for celebrating Advent as a family. If you don’t have a computer, let me know, and I can get you a print copy. Lexi and I are doing an Advent calendar with Adam that has daily Bible verses and candy. It’s a way of redeeming 24 days with God’s word and time spent in family devotions. It’s 24 days set aside to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming. I encourage you to make the most of Advent and of the church’s holy days. While the rest of the world is focused on other things, let’s stay focused on Christ.

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is a husband, father, and aspiring pastor-theologian, as well as the founder and president of You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.